Culture is the foundation upon which cities are built. Cities are not just a collection of buildings but are people, their stories, and how they interact with each other through their cultural identity and sense of place.
As seen when one of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s most recognizable landmarks, the 16th-century Ottoman bridge Stari Most, or “Old Bridge”, was destroyed in 1993 during the Bosnian War, local communities demanded and prioritized a full rebuilding of the original bridge with a message loud and clear: “A person killed is one of us; the Bridge is all of us.”
Subsequently, international efforts supported by UNESCO and the World Bank helped rebuild the Old Bridge and restore the Old City of Mostar. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the restored Old Bridge and Old City of Mostar attracts tourists from around the world, creating jobs and revitalizing the local economy.
With the shared conviction that culture is critical to achieve sustainable urban development and to ensure effective post-crisis reconstruction and recovery processes, a new World Bank – UNESCO Position Paper, Culture in City Reconstruction and Recovery (CURE), was presented today at UNESCO Headquarters to propose an enhanced culture-based framework for city reconstruction and recovery that integrates both people-centered and place-based approaches.
Culture at the heart of people, spaces, and city recovery policies
Symbolizing the fundamental role culture plays in the recovery of a city’s physical, social, and economic fabrics from war and conflict, the story of Mostar is emblematic of today’s cities and communities worldwide.
“Culture is a key source of resilience, reconciliation, and social cohesion for cities and communities,” says Ernesto Ottone R., UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Culture. “As the partnership of UNESCO and the World Bank across the world told us, including in Haiti, Mali, Bosnia and Herzegovina, preserving culture is critical for post-crisis recovery and reconstruction processes.”
As the world continues to urbanize at an unprecedented speed and scale, cities are increasingly bearing the brunt of conflicts, crises, and disasters. Natural hazards such as storms, floods, and earthquakes are becoming more intense and frequent, with a disproportionate impact on urban areas. Meanwhile, armed conflicts are becoming increasingly complex, forcing millions of people to flee their homes and causing widespread destruction in cities. Both are having a devastating effect on culture.
How can countries and cities best prepare themselves to effectively address increasing crises generated by acute urban distress?
Local contexts may vary, but successful policies must be both place-based as well as people-centered. While place-based strategies prioritize the reconstruction of physical assets, people-centered strategies can strengthen community ownership and social inclusion, improve livability of the built environment, and accelerate the socioeconomic recovery of cities.
At both the foundation and intersection of people and places lies the “X factor” of culture. Through cultural heritage and creativity, culture is essential as both an asset and a tool for city reconstruction and recovery. Without prioritizing culture, reconstruction processes can induce additional disruption of physical and social fabrics.
The CURE Framework
The CURE Framework provides guiding principles that integrate place-based and people-centered approaches through culture into sustainable urban development policies – to help cities effectively address the impact of urban crises.
“The CURE Framework marks an important milestone in the ongoing partnership between the World Bank and UNESCO to advance sustainable urban development by investing in culture, urban regeneration, and resilience in an integrated manner,” says Sameh Wahba, World Bank Director for Urban and Territorial Development, Disaster Risk Management and Resilience.
The new framework and operational guidance takes policy-makers and practitioners through the planning, financing, and implementation process. The CURE Framework highlights the foundational role of culture and emphasizes that effective city reconstruction and recovery programs require that culture be mainstreamed across the damage and needs assessments, as well as in policy and strategy setting, financing, and implementation. Finally, this collaborative effort recognizes that the integration of culture into post-crisis urban development and recovery can contribute substantially to making cities more inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.
The report draws upon global experience to demonstrate progress being made on the ground. Whether it is building a citizenship culture in Medellin, Colombia, to counterbalance the city’s violent past or fostering peace-building through transparency and community engagement in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, culture is the centerpiece.
Other experiences include post-earthquake cultural heritage conservation and recovery of the Old Town of Lijiang, China; promoting reconciliation through preservation of cultural heritage in Nicosia, Cyprus; and improving disaster risk management for the conservation of monuments in Bagan, Myanmar. In Iraq, the World Bank and UNESCO are preparing to collaborate on the rehabilitation of Mosul, building on the CURE Framework, as part of UNESCO’s “Revive the Spirit of Mosul” initiative and the World Bank’s Emergency Operation for Development project.
According to the position paper, culture as the foundation for recovery often begins with the physical reconstruction of iconic landmarks such as the Old Bridge in Mostar, Bosnia Herzegovina. At other times, the collective act of rebuilding shared heritage is the impetus for community rebirth, such as the post-conflict reconstruction process of religious and cultural sites in Timbuktu, Mali. Furthermore, Tokyo, Japan, demonstrates how a cultural construct approach, coupled with innovative land readjustment mechanisms, results in a resilient city that flourishes against many considerable odds. In the report, examples of Seoul, Republic of Korea, and Beirut, Lebanon, demonstrate that recovery without culture must eventually be adjusted to achieve sustainable results.
By adopting the CURE Framework, national and local leaders will be able to place culture at the heart of their own city reconstruction and recovery processes in the face of crises – whether they are disasters, armed conflicts, or urban distress situations – to build inclusive, resilient, and sustainable cities and communities for all, which is essential for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 and eliminating extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity at the local, regional, and national levels.